Breathing Together At Brighton

or, "I should have remembered that!"

by Jane Carnall and Frances Tucker

(I wrote the main narrative, Frances polished it and annotated. J.)

I arrived at Reading on Thursday evening, was met by Frances Tucker in a new red car with an SDP licence plate, and swept off to a Tandoori restaurant for a very hot meal with her and ten others from her work. Entertaining, if a little exhausting. Nice curried potatoes.

Friday I spent shopping, cooking, and investigating Frances' book collection. Fascinating and frustrating -- I didn't have time to read even half of it!

Friday evening we were supposed to be packing, but ended up watching a video of Aliens instead. All those butch women... mmm! And I liked Newt -- so tough and so brave... ahhh. (I'm just a romantic at heart.) Slightly gruesome but high on eyes-locked-to-the-screen value.

So we had to get up about five o'clock and pack then, instead -- a process which was probably the cause of the subtitle.... On the way to Brighton we only took the wrong road twice, and stopped for a more substantial breakfast in the Little Chef about half-past seven. The waiter looked at us a little oddly when we ordered two pots of tea, one portion of toast, and one American Breakfast... obviously a mundane.

Reaching Brighton, we found the campsite (after driving through Roedean School by accident), booked ourselves in, and pitched the tent. We didn't bother to unpack anything else which was definitely a mistake, but we didn't realise it at the time. We did however stop to don our "touched" t-shirts! Drove back into Brighton, found a parking site (with some difficulty) and chuntered \\Eh? Or 'sauntered', maybe? F.// off to register at the Brighton Centre.

Sitting down on the steps inside we looked at the programme. "Hacking on the Enterprise" in the Third Programme at 11am! Definitely for us. We found the Metropole Hotel without difficulty, but the Third Programme caused a little more (they were in the middle of renovating the place, though, which didn't help). Discovering that it was still full of the previous programme, we went looking for tea. To the bar; but it was true Sirius Corporation Tea Substitute -- it tasting, to put it delicately, like some armpits smell. We didn't drink it.

The bar led on to a wide balcony running round the dealer's room; we both noticed several intriguing tables, and the one just below us was selling second-hand books! Back up to the Third Programme room, and "Hacking on the Enterprise" was as entertaining as it sounded. Four writers (Barbara Hambly, Joe Haldeman (who I'd actually read), John M. Ford, and Melinda Snodgrass) all talked about the Star Trek books they'd written, and the difficulties Paramount had made with the writing... One point which amused the audience considerably concerned a scene in which Kirk is hiding in a closet. The original had Kirk thinking that he wasn't too bothered -- after all, he'd been in this situation several times before. Paramount insisted that the offending phrase be changed to once before -- Kirk was not to be presented as a womaniser. This raised a laugh, and a louder one when John Ford commented that they obviously wanted Kirk to come out of the closet. (Which was the nearest K/S got to being discussed at that panel....)

After the discussion was over, Frances and I went down to the Gaming and Computing Suite, but the Women in Fantasy Roleplay talk was just finishing. We went out to find a Link-card machine (for me to get money) and lunch. On to the Bedford Hotel for the Media Fandom panel.

The corridor leading up to the Nickleby Room was very crowded, hot, and a good place for meeting people. I discussed my "t"-shirt with a woman who said she was organising a James Tiptree Jr panel -- was I interested? Yes, I said, I think Tiptree's wonderful.

"She was one of the best writers of this century!" said Marsha.

"What do you mean, was?"

"She's dead."

James Tiptree, Jr, existed from 1968 to 1977 as a marmalade-jar name and a box number. Also, according to Robert Silverburg, in the 'ineluctably masculine style' of Tiptree's writing, in a critical essay just before Tiptree was involuntarily revealed as Alice B. Sheldon. (To be fair to Silverburg, he allowed the essay to be reprinted completely unedited after he knew Tiptree was Sheldon... which shows courage, if not sense. \\Eh? F.//) As James Tiptree, Jr, she wrote many truly excellent stories -- "Your Haploid Heart", "Houston, Houston, Do You Read" (coll. Star Songs of An Old Primate), "The Last Flight of Doctor Ain" and most famous of all, "The Women Men Don't See" (coll. Warm Worlds and Otherwise), which she took off the Hugo short-list, since she didn't want it to be voted for thinking that a man had written that intensely feminist story.

As Raccoona Sheldon she has written five short stories (which were ignored until James Tiptree wrote a covering letter recommending Raccoona Sheldon's work), one of which, "Morality Meat" (in Despatches from the Frontiers of the Female Mind) is a powerful and terrible parable, to be read to any anti-choice friends you may still have. (You won't, after you read them it.)

I have never been able to get enough Tiptree fiction.

She had announced in 1979 that she was giving up writing fiction, but there was always the possibility she'd change her mind; but she had been talking about suicide with friends for some time, feeling however that she could not kill herself while her husband still wanted to live.

Early this year, he had a stroke.

A few months ago, she shot him, then herself.

She was seventy-two. The coroner's verdict was murder, and suicide.

We talked about James Tiptree and Raccoona Sheldon, exchanged addresses and lists of interests (I discovered Marsha was into vampires!) and then, magically, the corridor started clearing. I appeared to have lost Frances, but went into the room anyway. The lecture was still going on -- a precise and detailed explanation of just why the Titanic sank the way it did, which was fairly interesting but not really what I was here for.

(However, I learnt something new; there was a German ship sailing quite near to where the Titanic sank, and it could have picked up many of the people who drowned. It wasn't there because the Englishman on duty in the radio room was so insulting that the German ship halted and went no closer; evidently the English thought it quite humiliating enough to be sinking without being rescued by Germans! )

Eventually the room was cleared and I found some floor space to sit on, realising just as soon as it was too late to escape that the reason the person on the end of the panel looked so familiar was because she was someone I'd never wanted to see again. Didn't know she was at the con. Damn.

The session was the first actual discussion (and I was only at one other, on Monday afternoon) at the con; none of that Let The Mighty Experts on the Panel Tell You All, but more a sort of controlled-chaotic debate, which got slightly acrimonious; the main point was the habit of literary-sf fans to look down on media-sf fans as being not-quite-quite. Several media-sf fans said how friendly and outgoing media-sf fans were compared to literary-sf fans; several literary-sf fans said they were perfectly friendly and outgoing but media-sf fans were quite often more into admiring the characters and/or the actors than getting into the stories (and that was the nearest any kind of 'slash' got to being discussed at the con); I said that as a literary-sf and a media-sf fan I thought we were all a lot more alike than we were different; after all we all enjoyed sf, didn't we?

It would be nice to say that this ended the acrimony, but it didn't.

The argument (Are Media Fans Nicer?) went on till well after 2pm, and possibly continued elsewhere. I zoomed across the room as soon as people started getting up, dragged Frances to her feet, and left the room at nearly the velocity of light, before the person I never wanted to see again could come over and say hello. Frances was very patient.

We tried to walk down from the Nickleby Room and discovered it was physically impossible. Unless there was a fire, patrons were expected to take the lifts. While trying to find a staircase with doors that opened without breaking glass and sounding a fire alarm, we lost the lift. A few miles later....

Brighton appears to be full of these little spatial warps; the parking unit where we left the SDP-vehicle was arranged so that you went down three levels from street-level to street-level. Admittedly there was a slight slope, but I still can't work out how they fitted those two top levels in....

However, we escaped the Bedford in time for Frances' panel at 3pm -- Bones Cracked, Blood Spurted As He Edited Out The Violence -- and I had a wander round the Fan Room, picked up a few odd (very odd) fanzines for free, discovered that the Gaylactic (silent y) Science-Fiction Network were meeting tonight at 7.30 pm in the Fan Room for a chat and supper afterwards.

Realised it must be getting on for time for Voulez vouz cliche avec moi? (well, not quite; My Ten Worst SF Cliches, in the Third Programme), and dived off. I'd actually heard of two of the people on this panel, and even read one of them. Very interesting, quite funny; deeply appreciated Jane Johnson's comment that the one blurb she never wanted to see again was the one on the back of sword & sorcery epics; "COMPARABLE TO TOLKIEN AT HIS BEST".

Frances and I had agreed to meet up at the Winter Gardens for Tomorrow Belongs to the Illiterate, which, crunching choclatey (her) and cheesey (me) biscuits, we did. Illiterate we may be, but we were also utterly bored, so we walked out and I told Frances about the Gaylactic supper. "Go for it!" she said -- her warcry!

We made arrangements to meet up again for the Masquerade, and then she wandered off in one direction and I in the other. In the dealer's room I listened to a lovely sales-pitch from a dealer to a friend out front and found it very entertaining; until she started the sales pitch on me, when I fled before I could be tempted. \\Yield to temptation! F.// {{Yes, but it's bad for my bank account. J.}}

Back at the Masquerade, I realised that I had slightly less chance than a cat in hell of finding Frances in the crowd, and sat through costumes 1 to 17 before panicking about the time and deciding to leave.

Found her with another Frances (Bonner) in the fanroom, looking for the Gaylactic Network. We all wandered round the room several times before discovering that they were the largish group of men with moustaches. Ah well.

And then Frances Bonner looked over my shoulder as we stood there and said, quite casually, "Isn't that Marion Zimmer Bradley?"

Doing my damnedest not to faint, shriek, or gape, I glanced back, equally ultra-casual, and said, "I don't know, I've never seen her."

The next few minutes are somewhat cotton-woolly; Frances T suggested we ask her to supper and we hurried over. Frances T did the asking -- because every time I opened my mouth, words obstinately refused to come out.

This muting went on for the next half hour. Marion accepted, explaining that she'd been looking for the Gaylactics herself; we left en masse, and tried to find someplace to eat. I did manage to ask her about Sword & Sorceress IV; she said she was starting work on S&S VI in April. Ooops.

Marion suggested a steak restaurant (that did omelettes); a nice place, even if the sixteen of us did have to wait about an hour to get served. I think we panicked them!

We four were the only women, and by some coincidence we were all sitting at the same table, so I did finally manage to convince my mouth to say something inane about S&S III and ask Marion what she was working on now; a book about the Trojan War from the women's point of view, apparently. Managed to remember to give away a lot of "touched" flyers, too.

It was a wonderful evening. When Frances and I wandered back to the Metropole, I was so dazed I didn't quite realise how Frances met the clutch of people we were with after the Gaylactic folk had drifted out.

There was talk about some video of the Masquerade, but even after dodging over practically the entire convention we seemed no nearer to it. Merely the meanderings of insanity or alcoholic influence, perhaps -- Eventually, giving up, Frances went off to a beer-tasting while I sought out Tanith Lee's midnight reading. Unfortunately, Tanith Lee appeared to have teleported off the face of the convention, so we had a Glaswegian sword&sorcery story instead.

Feeling slightly exhausted (it was getting on past midnight) I discovered Frances in the fanroom, with a moustached individual who'd been looking for the video. I think. About an hour before this point my recollections started getting fuzzy, and by this time they were definitely blurred; I think it's called confatigue.

Frances, inexplicably full of energy, {{Well, you said it, I didn't -- J.}} insisted on going to the disco; I tend to discophobia, so I said I'd sit on the main stairs in the Metropole and wait for her. Which I did, alternately reading This Immortal and contemplating the ceiling.

Eventually she came back for the last time, and we hunted out the car. Getting lost again, we checked with a couple of friendly policemen, and realised that it was close to 2.30am and the campsite didn't allow cars inside after 10.30pm. Luckily it was a lovely warm night; you could actually hear the grasshoppers chirring. We eventually carried our sleeping gear all the way across the site, to the wrong tent. Fumbling at the zip, we realised this when a sleepy voice demanded to know who the hell we were. Oops. Found the right tent. Unpacked sleeping bags. Zonked.

About 9am -- the joys of discovering the hot showers in the washhouse, and breakfast. Frances had brought along a cute toastmaking gadget, but it didn't really work in the open air. Too windy -- so we ate warmed bread and cereal.

Discussed the day's activities; Frances was planning to attend the BSFA Annual General Meeting, and I wanted to go see SF Gothic -- Where Horror Meets SF. We agreed to meet up for The Serious Scientific Talk given by Bob Shaw.

The SF Gothic talk was OK, but could have been better for a panel that included Suzy McKee Charnas and George R.R. Martin. (Does anyone out there know what 'R.R.' really stands for? I can't believe any parents would call their child Rail Road....)

Realised that I'd be too late for The Serious Scientific Talk anyway, and went off to the dealer's room determined to go all the way round it. Wished I hadn't when the person I never wanted to see again turned out to be helping behind a jewellery stall. Staggered on to a Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy stall and bought four packets of stickers. Managed to resist the tribbles. (Barely.)

Wandered on in search of tea, and found some in the Brighton Centre that didn't taste like Sirius Corporation Tea Substitute but did cost 35p for an extremely small pot of Tetley's. I found Frances (or she found me) and we had a quick lunch on the beach before attending the Fan Programme, Why Have the Americans Hijacked the Worldcon? Moderately interesting.

We agreed to go to The Women's Periodical tea party, and then I dived off to the Third Programme, Building a Better Man [emphasis mine]. The panel was all-male, and the most sexist one I was at; after John Brunner and Hal Clements had finished going through their ideas, (only Dougal Dixon had the sense to point out that the simplest way of building a better man would be to change him into a woman) Frederick Pohl started in on belittling Elaine Morgan's brilliant book, The Descent of Woman, not to mention announcing that natural selection was still in force; look at AIDS.

Infuriated (I guess I'm just another humourless lesbian-feminist at heart), when I finally managed to catch Pohl's eye and get the microphone, I stood up and said that firstly if AIDS was natural selection obviously what evolution wanted was a planet full of lesbians, and I rather liked the idea. (A deadly silence. The room was full of male sf fans.) Secondly, I said, this panel on How To Build a Better Man was as androcentric as the anthropological condemnations of The Descent of Women. I handed the microphone back and sat down. (Another deadly silence. My knees were shaking.)

Fred Pohl got uptight and retracted something he'd said before, managing to make it sound as if he was correcting a mistake I'd made. (However, I got congratulated by a man who'd been at the Gaylactic supper the night before!)

On the way out I met a wonderful woman who goes skydiving for the Rape Crisis Centre. We chatted and I signed her sponsor list for her next skydive. Suddenly realised the Women's Periodical teaparty would be starting and darted off, forgetting my pen -- but it turned out that she was going to the teaparty as well so I got it back.

The teaparty was fun; I managed to get the apa's collater's address before it degenerated completely into chaos and a lovely discussion about sf and Worldcon and TWP and sf....

Eventually Frances and I decided to leave and go to the opposition Fan Programme, "Hop Off You Frogs!" -- Are the British Arrogant? Some acrimony over 'British' -- several Welsh, Scottish, and Irish fans pointed out that it was the English who were so bloody arrogant.

Then, after trying to find something to eat, we headed out with Moustache to get a good seat for the fireworks. By dint of sitting on the edge of their table and talking loonyspeak, we terrified a pair of mundanes into vacating their outside table in the bar and sat around chatting fairly peacefully until Moustache got onto AIDS. It was terrible, he said, he couldn't just go round knocking off birds any more. For once I thought of the right thing to say at the instant, instead of ten minutes later as usual, and retorted "What does AIDS have to do with shooting turkeys?" I was on my third glass of orange juice -- anybody'll tell you I'm given to Janeisms when I'm hopped on citric acid. Moustache gulped a little. Coincidentally he then decided to go talk to someone else.... Ah well.

The fireworks were magical.

We went back to the Metropole; but so did about five hundred other people. The hotel staff first wouldn't let anybody on day membership in, then they wouldn't let anyone but residents in; then wouldn't let anybody in. I got stuck in a glassed-in veranda and had to wait quarter of an hour for Frances to fight her way in and then out!

(Good thing there was a no-weapons ban on or the hotel managers would have been murdered, which wouldn't been fun for Brighton's poor long-suffering pavements. Query; what do you call fifty hotel managers at the bottom of a swimming pool? Answer; a start.) \\This is only one of the many similiar jokes abounding... F.// We went back to the campsite. Got lost again in the process -- surprise. Found the right tent. Zonked.

I woke up, and Frances was still asleep. Pulled Diane Duane's latest Star Trek novel out of my bag and read my way through Bones' trial. When she woke up we had breakfast. Frances had worked out how we could set the camping stove up inside the tent. The more I find out about this woman the more I become convinced that she is a closet genius. Brilliant. \\Thank you!!! Even if I think you must be deluded! (You may not think that after you've seen all this annotation!) F.//

We eventually didn't do much on Monday; wandered round the art exhibition, and that was -- something else. Frances finally got to read her way through my MSS folder (last seen disappearing into blue space around page 18 of the latest epic, saying dazedly; You mean there's more?) and I took a final, wistful peek into the dealers room.

Again we sat on the beach and chipped flints and discussed the con. Luckily there are a lot of flints on Brighton beach. Then we went along to the new pier and admired all the gunk. (Frances practically had to drag me away from the bouncy castles -- you're only young once, but you can stay immature indefinitely!!) \\Hundreds of tourists on Bank Holiday outings. I'm here for a reason -- F.//

Frances went to the closing ceremony, and I drifted along to the one newsagent on the seafront that sold Sparkles. (An all-ice type of ice-lolly that I am occasionally but passionately addicted to.) It also sold Fantasy & Science Fiction, with a couple of fascinating articles by Asimov and Ellison, but unfortunately funds were running low so I simply exercised my doubtful talent for innocently standing and skimming through all the interesting parts.

Back at the Metropole we collapsed into a handy sofa to wait for the James Tiptree Jr. workshop. \\Very soft, it was, this sofa, and probably contained one of the warps Jane mentioned earlier, since we missed the people we were looking for. Still, we found them in the fanroom eventually and settled down to about three hours enjoyable chat. F.//

Marsha read one of Tiptree's stories, and passed round some xeroxed biodata about her; we discussed "The Last Flight of Doctor Ain", Tiptree, "Your Haploid Heart", Tiptree, "The Women Men Don't See", Raccoona Sheldon, Tiptree, "Houston, Houston, Do You Read?", Tiptree, Tiptree, and Tiptree. One woman brought up a point that hadn't occurred to me before; how a man, or for that matter a heterosexual woman, reading "Houston", might react to a world of women calmly and fastidiously planning to kill the returning men. It hadn't occurred to me either that a woman reading it might identify with the male protagonist... or, indeed, that anyone would invariably identify with any protagonist presented. \\Jane -- detailed thesis please!!!! F.//

Eventually we had to leave, reluctantly. But in the enclosed world of the car, driving through darkness, a little of that atmosphere lived on. It was one of the great weekends.


September 1987

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